The Leonberger is definitely not a lap dog, but he wants to be.

This lovable, 120-pound-plus pup is pretty special. He comes from a long line of dogs carefully crafted to resemble a lion and who twice faced extinction during some of the most difficult times in our history.

The Leonberger's extra-large size may look formidable, but he is a family dog first and foremost, so much so that the American Kennel Club recently welcomed him into their registry of the top dogs of the nation.


The Leonberger hails from Leonberg, Germany, the city after which the dog was named. According to local folklore, the dog was bred to resemble the lion in the city's coat of arms. The breed is affectionately nicknamed "Leo."

A breeder created the Leonberger by crossing a variety of large dog breeds during the 1830s, including the Newfoundland, the St. Bernard and a Pyrenean mountain dog. A growing demand to breed a large dog with a long white coat inspired the creation of the Leonberger. By the end of the 19th century, the breed had found a home with many farmers, who used the dogs to guard livestock.

During World Wars I and II, however, the breed face near extinction in Germany. According to historians, only five Leonbergers survived World War I. The eight dogs who survived World War II can be credited as the ancestors to all modern-day Leonbergers.

The breed found itself back in the spotlight in 1997, when three Leonbergers appeared in the starring role of "Buck" in the film "The Call of the Wild: Dog of the Yukon."

One of the Leonberger's most distinguishable characteristics is its even-tempered personality. Its playful and loyal traits are what have bonded the breed so closely with families around the world.

The Leonberger’s good nature and intelligence has made it highly responsive to training and socialization. This normally friendly dog is protective of family and children but a rare individual may be aggressive toward approaching strangers and small children. It is highly recommended that you take your Leonberger to obedience and socialization classes in order to curb any tendencies toward aggressive behavior.

It should be noted that this breed is technically a working dog, so daily walks will also benefit your dog's health and behavior.

This normally friendly dog is protective of family and children but a rare individual may be aggressive toward approaching strangers and small children.

A 6-month-old Leonberger with a child

Today's Leonberger has a darker coat, as compared to the white coats of the breed's ancestors. Mature Leonbergers have a pronounced mane covering the neck and chest, contributing to the lion-like appearance.

The modern-day Leonberger has a variety of coat colors, including "lion yellow," red, red-brown and sand, each possible with black tipping highlighting the color.

The breed sports a water resistant, double coat and a muscular build and is surprisingly agile and coordinated for its size. The average male weighs between 120 and 170 pounds, while the average female weighs between 100 and 130 pounds.

As can be imagined, the Leonberger's coat will benefit from routine grooming in order to keep it maintained and tangle-free. It will also help control excessive shedding, particularly during summertime.

Though considered to be generally healthy, the Leonberger breed is plagued by health conditions prevalent in most large breeds of dogs. Hip dysplasia, OCD, stomach torsion, various cancers (including osteosarcoma of the limbs), dilated cardiomyopathy and reduced life span are common to nearly all giant breeds of dogs; however, your Leonberger will not necessarily develop these issues, including those listed below.

  • Hip dysplasia, a malformation of the hip joints that causes arthritis, is especially crippling in large breeds of dogs, although most Leonberger breeders routinely screen their dogs using X-rays evaluated by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals in an effort to strengthen the dog's gene pool.
  • Osteochondrosis dissecans (OCD), defective development of cartilage of shoulder joints and/or hock joints will result in arthritic joints if not surgically treated. Radiographic evaluation of breeding animals by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals is recommended.
  • Stomach bloat or torsion (also known as gastric dilatation and volvulus or GDV) is very serious and often deadly condition where the stomach becomes painfully distended, either due to food, water or gas. The distended stomach then has a tendency to rotate twisting off its own blood supply and the only exit routes for the gas inside.
  • Entropion, inward curling of the lower eyelid or ectropion, rolling out of the eyelid, is fairly common in the breed. The condition should be corrected surgically to prevent damage to the cornea of the eye.
  • Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) is an adult-onset condition which gradual degeneration of the retina leading to blindness.
  • A cataract is an opacity of the lens of the eye. May cause blindness if not treated surgically.
  • Inherited Leonberger Paralysis/Polyneuropathy (ILPN) is a degenerative disease of the peripheral nervous system that causes muscular weakness and progressive debility usually involving the rear legs. Damage to the laryngeal nerve may result in hoarseness, changes in barking, wheezing, heavy panting and coughing after eating or drinking.
  • Hypothyroidism is a condition caused by low thyroid hormone production of the thyroid glands. Lack of this hormone causes weight gain, lethargy, poor hair coat, infertility and susceptibility to chronic infections. There are many causes of this disorder but the most common type seen in Leonbergers is Autoimmune Lymphocytic Thyroiditis, a form of hypothyroidism which is considered hereditary.
  • Addison’s disease is caused by defective production of hormones called mineral corticoids by the adrenal glands. This disorder results in chronic gastrointestinal problems, weakness and inability to respond to stressful situations. Although rare, it is thought to be hereditary in Leobergers.
  • Perianal fistulas are chronic deep, draining, infected sacs located around the anus which do not heal. They may look similar to anal gland abscesses, but are often more extensive and very difficult to clear up.
As with any pet, be sure to regularly consult a veterinarian for routine care and medical advice for your four-legged friend.